The UK PONI Annual Conference is an opportunity to offer a next-generation perspective on the state of nuclear issues and its impact in a security landscape that is ever-changing. While I may not be “next-generation” I know that many of you are, so I want to take the opportunity to share my perspectives not only as the United States Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, but also as someone with 30+ years of experience working in arms control, disarmament and nonproliferation covering chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear issues, and increasingly so in emerging technologies.
So, I really want to thank you for having me here today and thank you DG Chalmers for the very kind introduction. It is a real pleasure to have the opportunity to share my perspectives and priorities on the headline issues of today, and the trendlines for the challenges to come.
We face a number of challenges. Russia’s unprovoked and brutal invasion of Ukraine has forced us to seriously consider gaps that now exist in the security landscape, including the challenges posed by the proliferation of disinformation. The People’s Republic of China’s rapid modernization of its military and economy reflects its ambition to create a sphere of influence in the Indo-Pacific and beyond, while seeking to become the world’s sole leading power. Technology is advancing, as are the opportunities and challenges posed by an increased interest in space, while at the same time, climate change and limited resources can lead to conflict if not adequately addressed. We must consider new ways to address the challenges we face in international security.
In the wake of Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine, some expressed concerns about what this means for the future of arms control and the effectiveness of international agreements. The challenges to and violations of international agreements, especially regarding arms control and nonproliferation, by a handful of countries, including Russia, is very concerning. In fact, Putin’s actions seriously undermine the foundations of the international order that has provided security for much of this world that suffered two world wars. Russia is selectively implementing or outright violating many of its arms control obligations and commitments. Let us not forget that Putin joined the leaders of the People’s Republic of China, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States in affirming the importance of diplomacy to avoid military confrontation just weeks prior to Russia’s further invasion into Ukraine.
At the same time, other ongoing issues, such as the DPRK’s continued insistence on advancing its unlawful weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles program, the uncertain future of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and the growing challenges posed by the People’s Republic of China, raises the frustration around arms control, disarmament, and nonproliferation, which is understandable.
Despite these challenges, arms control remains an important means to increase global security because it reduces risk and enhances peace and stability. And we must fortify our approaches and recommit to the basic principles of international security, strategic stability, and arms control efforts that our predecessors were able to ensure through the power of diplomacy. The reality is this: the importance of arms control will only grow as we face competitors who are pursuing reckless and destabilizing buildups of their nuclear forces.
The most serious long-term challenge we face is posed by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), whose rapid and aggressive nuclear buildup, among other actions, is a new challenge that requires our serious attention. The accelerating pace of the PRC’s nuclear expansion is reflective of their intention to have at least 1,000 warheads by 2030, exceeding the size the United States projected just two years ago. There is no formal dialogue with the PRC on nuclear weapons limitations and the PRC refuses to be transparent about the purposes and direction of its nuclear strategy. The PRC’s “without limits” partnership with Russia warrants a serious look at its end goals. China’s transformation into a global power was made possible by the stability and the opportunities international order provides — that is, the rules-based international order made up of systems of international agreements, rules, procedures, and institutions that the nations of the world have worked hard to build together over the past 70 years. The PRC’s subversion of the very order that allowed it to thrive, and its intent to create a system more favorable for authoritarian governments, is not going unnoticed and must be addressed.
On that note, let me refer to Secretary of State Blinken’s remarks last month highlighting the Administration’s approach to the PRC and how the United States will be engaging with China going forward. The bottom line is this: we will work with our strong network of allies and partners around the world to shape the strategic environment around Beijing. This means that, among other things, we will continue to engage with the international community to strengthen arms control and related international agreements. At the same time, we will continue to engage in, and remain open to, meaningful dialogue with countries such as the PRC.
We remain committed to laying the groundwork for future arms control, in particular by pursuing follow-on measures to the New START Treaty with Russia. We will continue to adhere to our moratorium to nuclear explosive testing and support the CTBT’s eventual entry of force. We will continue to maximize support for enhanced verification capabilities and strengthen implementation of existing instruments such as the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). On the latter, let me note the United States believes this is incredibly important, as evidenced by my recent appointment of a Special Representative to the BWC – a strong statement on our dedication to strengthen the BWC and its implementation.
We have now assumed the Chair of the P5 Process and we will continue to work with our P5 colleagues to strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty – the NPT – and its three pillars. Our goal had been to carry on many of the current work streams – particularly the further development of the strategic risk reduction work stream, which will be part of a P5 Working Group on Doctrines and Strategic Risk Reduction, as noted in the P5 working paper on strategic risk reduction for the NPT Review Conference (RevCon). However, in light of Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine, we are continuing to assess how to move forward; certainly, Russia’s actions have not diminished our commitment to the NPT.
Talking about the NPT, back in November, I laid out the Biden-Harris Administration’s vision for the Tenth NPT RevCon in my remarks to Chatham House. In those remarks, I described our approach to all three NPT pillars: nonproliferation, disarmament, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. I encourage everyone here to read those remarks; they describe our principles for a successful RevCon, and those considerations continue to guide our RevCon preparations.
That being said, we cannot ignore the ways in which the world has changed since then, nor the implications those changes have for the NPT and the nonproliferation regime.
As my colleague Ambassador Adam Scheinman, the Special Representative of the President for Nuclear Nonproliferation, has said, Russia’s war against Ukraine threatens every core precept of the NPT. We will be perfectly clear about how these actions threaten the nonproliferation regime, even aside from the overarching issues surrounding Russia’s atrocities and blatant violations of Ukraine’s territorial integrity. We trust NPT parties to call out Russia’s transgressions and join us in working to advance this essential treaty.
A critical component of the nonproliferation regime is the universal and consistent application of safeguards, particularly the Additional Protocol. We must reinvigorate our efforts to promote the combination of a Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement and an Additional Protocol as the de facto standard for how NPT Non-Nuclear-Weapon States Parties should implement their obligation to accept IAEA safeguards.
We will continue to pursue a positive outcome for the NPT RevCon. Even – and especially – in moments of crisis, the nonproliferation regime remains as critical as ever, and the NPT continues to be its cornerstone.
It is important that we also stay flexible in considering ways we pursue risk reduction and future arms control. There is no single, elegant solution to managing nuclear, or other 21st century risks. We must be creative to find ways forward with partners and allies as well as those who disagree. We must consider different and novel approaches, forms, and initiatives that we have not traditionally used before – such as codes of conduct and implementation of best practices.
The recent voluntary commitment announced by the United States to not conduct destructive direct-ascent anti-satellite missile testing is one example of such an initiative that also demonstrates our commitment to reducing the risk to the outer space environment from the testing of this type of weapon. We are now working to encourage other countries to make similar commitments and to establish this as a new norm of responsible behavior.
We are also looking at the nexus of clean energy and national security and how we can help protect allies’ and partners’ critical energy infrastructure as they pursue the benefits offered by advanced nuclear technologies while meeting the highest standards of safety, security, and nonproliferation. This goes hand in hand with the urgent reminder of the security risks posed by Russia and others’ energy diplomacy, and how cooperation and coordination among like-minded allies, partners, and nuclear suppliers can enhance our common purposes for nuclear nonproliferation and energy security.
As I noted earlier, technology is advancing, as are the opportunities and challenges posed by technological developments. At the same time, climate change and limited resources can lead to conflict if not addressed. In other words, international security is becoming more comprehensive, and so must our approaches. One of the areas that offer promise in addressing these issues is in new and emerging technologies.
New and emerging technologies is an area where we find evolving challenges that no longer fit the narrative of hard security or traditional security. As the world changes and develops, we face evolving challenges and threats in new spaces. In the digital arena where disinformation thrives, for sure, but also in outer space, quantum computing, advanced manufacturing, biotechnologies, renewable energy generation and storage, and artificial intelligence, just to name a few.
These critical and emerging technologies are increasingly at the core of our common endeavors with allies and partners. They have the potential to yield enormous benefits to people and societies worldwide and improve how we live, think, and go about our daily routines. Moreover, they provide opportunities to enhance the security of the United States, our allies, and partners.
But at the same time, they are also a focus of our competition with rivals and adversaries and have the potential to do great harm in the wrong hands. Used by malign actors, these technologies can be repurposed for malicious use and weaponized with the intent to harm millions. Some technologies present significant risks to national security, often because of their novel defense or security applications critical to our national security and economic strength. Therefore, it is vital we identify and determine how a given technology and its applications need to be controlled, with common-sense rules.
Emerging technologies will profoundly affect our lives and the lives our children and grandchildren and directly impact jobs, innovation, and competitiveness. This is why shaping norms regarding the use of these technologies is critical today.
Last month I visited Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories in California to learn firsthand how artificial intelligence (or AI) is being used to advance our prosperity and national security. I had incredible discussions with experts there about the pace and scope of AI development; it was a great opportunity for me and my colleagues to understand some of the issues we need to address in the coming months. There are so many questions: How can militaries use artificial intelligence in a responsible or predictable manner? Should AI-enabled weapons systems be permitted to launch attacks without approval from a human being? What is the impact of AI on strategic stability? What is the role of diplomacy in addressing these issues? These are the types of questions we think about daily.
I would like to return to the PRC for a moment. I am particularly concerned about the threats posed by the PRC’s strategy of Military-Civil Fusion, or MCF. MCF brings together the PRC’s civilian economy and defense establishment so that advanced and emerging technologies that drive China’s economic engine also advance its military modernization. Their aim is to evolve the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) into a world-class military by ensuring that technologies, talent, know-how, intellectual property, and financial resources provided by the PRC’s civilian economy are fully and seamlessly integrated to improve and enhance the PLA’s capabilities.
The blurred lines of civil and military development compound the challenges we face in the security landscape. The PRC exploits its global relationships to acquire technologies and information through licit and illicit means, through trade, investment, joint research and development, and exploiting academic collaboration, as well as through intellectual property theft and forced tech transfer.
Often, the PRC acquires various technologies and then diverts them to its national defense system without the knowledge or consent of the researcher or business partner. As such, implementation of MCF directly challenges traditional nonproliferation tools, including export controls and investment screenings, by making it impossible to trust end-user commitments and peaceful uses assurances that underpin global trade in technology and research cooperation.
We must be vigilant in our efforts to mitigate the MCF threats to our national security, economy, and intellectual property, while having the smallest possible impact on the collaborative science, technology, and business ecosystem. This requires new thinking, out of the box and creative solutions. This approach not only applies to current threats and the landscape assessment I mentioned earlier, but also applies to our efforts in working with allies and partners across the conventional and nonconventional domains to deter increasingly asymmetric risks posed by our adversaries.
That is why, as I previously mentioned, it is so important that we now consider new ways to address these new challenges we face in international security. I cannot stress this enough. And to address these challenges, we need to ensure we include diversity of thought in order to succeed.
Within the State Department, we are committed to modernizing the workforce to ensure that we recruit, retain, and promote the best and brightest talents. President Biden has made it clear that promoting diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility is a national security imperative. Secretary Blinken agrees that diversity is mission-critical for us. So we are doing the hard work of confronting our past and looking into the future to make the work of public service – for peace and security – worth pursuing and staying in. We are elevating new voices, encouraging more innovation, and investing in expertise that is not traditionally considered pathways for a career in foreign service.
Looking out, I also work to ensure we have diversity in building a network of expertise, both in and out of government. Only by embracing this type of inclusiveness can we gain the insights and perspectives we need for these challenges. An initiative of mine that I am spearheading is called the “T Family Brain Trust” – the T Family is how we colloquially refer to the policy bureaus overseen by my office within the State Department. The Brain Trust is a network of experts that includes the expertise of those with nuclear security backgrounds within government, research-based organizations, as well as leaders in business, science, academic institutions, and non-governmental organizations. They reflect a wide variety of scientific, technology, military, diplomatic, political, cultural and social backgrounds and identities.
We cannot confront the challenges of the 21st century without the full participation of every person, and I encourage everyone to ideate and share best practices on how to bring onboard, empower, and elevate diverse voices and perspectives into decision-making processes that you are involved in in your line of work.
To close, I want to mention that last month, on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the first Strategic Arms Limitation Talks agreement in 1972, also known as SALT I, I presented my nine priorities for my office and the three bureaus that I oversee at the State Department. I encourage you to read my remarks, which you can find online. They are also available in a more condensed form on my Twitter account. SALT I was a groundbreaking arms limitation treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union, and the foundation for all arms limitation talks that followed. To me, it is a reminder that even as today we face monumental international security challenges, just like our predecessors, we will prevail through the power of diplomacy. Our leadership and engagement matters, and collaboration and cooperation with allies and partners matter, now more than ever.